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Justice Department says Equal Rights Amendment deadline has passed, fight continues

Eddie Burkhalter

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The U.S. Department of Justice’s opinion is that the deadline has passed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, a finding supported by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. 

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala, and others, however, say the protections for women are needed, and Alabama’s fight against its passage is misguided.  

The Equal Rights Amendment, if ratified by a 38th state, would ban discrimination based on sex. Proponents of the amendment hope that Virginia’s new Democratic majority means a second chance for the protections for women. 

The 38-page DOJ opinion released Monday received praise from the amendment’s opponents who say its passage would give courts too much power, but a vote to ratify remains likely in Virginia and would set the stage for an all but certain court battle. 

“We conclude that Congress had the constitutional authority to impose a deadline on the ratification of the ERA and, because that deadline has expired, the ERA Resolution is no longer pending before the States,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney General Steven Engel in the opinion. 

Congress passed the amendment in 1972 and five years later it was ratified by 35 states, but the deadline to gain the needed 38 states passed in 1979, so Congress extended the deadline to 1982. 

Nevada in 2017 became the 36th state to ratify it, and was followed by Illinois in 2018. 

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Democratic wins in Virginia’s House and Senate revived hope among the amendment’s supporters, and the state’s Gov. Ralph Northam supports ratification. 

The Equal Rights Amendment text states:  

Section 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

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Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

“The DOJ opinion reaffirms that understanding and sets forth why the ERA expired in 1979 when the deadline passed without ratification from three-fourths of the States,” Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement Wednesday. 

Marshal in December joined attorneys general for Louisiana and South Dakota if filing a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama asking the federal court to rule that the time to ratify the amendment has expired. 

“If this constitutional bait-and-switch is successful, there will be dire consequences for the rule of law,” Marshall said in a statement in December. 

Both the House and Senate have introduced bills to remove the deadline and restart the process of ratification, and supporters of such say the original amendment contains no deadline and the Constitution does not require one, but that the deadline was only added in a joint resolution after the fact. 

Rep. Terri Sewell in a message to APR on Thursday expressed support for ERA’s ratification. Sewell is one of 224 lawmakers to have cosponsored the House bill to remove the deadline. 

“It is disgraceful that nearly 100 years after women fought for and won the right to vote, our equality as enshrined in the U.S. Constitution remains a matter of contention. As an Alabamian, I am particularly saddened by our state’s role in attempting to block the Equal Rights Amendment’s ratification,” Sewell said in the statement. “While I am deeply disappointed in the DOJ’s decision, I am proud to cosponsor H.J.Res.79, which seeks to strike the ERA deadline. There should be no deadline on equality.”

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, in a statement sent to APR Thursday from a spokeswoman, also supported the amendment’s ratification.

“Senator Jones supports ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment and believes it would be a strong statement of support for the women of our state for Alabama to do so,” said Caroline Stonecipher, Jones’s press secretary, in the message.

 If Virginia lawmakers do ratify the ERA, Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring has said he’s ready to fight to ensure the protections are afforded to women.  

“It is wholly unsurprising that the Trump Administration has found yet another way to oppose women’s equality,” Herring said in a statement Wednesday. “The ERA should have been passed by Virginia and other states a long time ago. It should have been unanimous. Women in America deserve to have equality guaranteed in the Constitution. The fact that Republican attorneys general are suing to block the ERA, and that they now have the support of the Trump Administration, is absolutely repugnant.

“When Virginia becomes the 38th state to ratify the ERA I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that the will of Virginians is carried out and the ERA is added to our Constitution, as it should be,” Herring said. 

Lilly Ledbetter,  the Jacksonville resident whose fight for equal pay for women resulted in the Little Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, told APR on Thursday that the Equal Rights Amendment should have already been passed. 

Ledbetter sued Goodyear tire plant in Gadsden after learning that she’d been underpaid for years as a manager compared to her male management colleagues. An Alabama court agreed with Ledbetter, but Goodyear appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that she’d waited too long to file a complaint under the Equal Pay Act of 1963. 

Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter ACT into law nine days after his inauguration, which allows women to file a claim at the time they discover they’ve been underpaid, removing the deadline to file shortly after the underpayment occurred. 

Ledbetter said she’ll travel to Virginia later this month to participate in a march in support of the amendment’s ratification.  

I support ERA and believe all women’s lives would be better if this had been passed years ago,” Ledbetter said.

 

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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Josh Moon

Redemption not revenge drives Tuberville supporter

Josh Moon

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Edgar McGraw speaking at a Tommy Tuberville event.

It would make for a great political story if Edgar McGraw hated Jeff Sessions. In fact, it would be the kind of legendary story of revenge that TV movies are built around.

This man, Edgar McGraw, is arrested on drug distribution charges in 1986 and prosecuted by then-U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions. Sessions takes everything from McGraw and gives gleeful media interviews bragging about the arrest and seizures of McGraw’s property.

McGraw gets out of prison, rebuilds his life and becomes a respected, successful business owner. All the while, biding his time until the day he can exact revenge upon Sessions.

One day in 2020, he sees his chance: A former college football coach in a football-crazed state is running against Sessions for U.S. Senate. McGraw throws some money to the coach, hosts a fundraiser for him.

And the coach does the unthinkable. He upsets the 30-year politician. With McGraw’s help, Jeff Sessions’ career is over.

McGraw smiles.

But real life ain’t like the movies.

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And in real life, Edgar McGraw has none of these dreams of revenge. He holds no ill will. He wasn’t gleeful the night Sessions lost, instead he was glad his friend Tommy Tuberville won. And he didn’t back Tuberville because he was running against Sessions, but because McGraw and Tuberville were friends long before Tuberville dipped a toe into politics.

That’s life, I guess. You go looking for a revenge story and end up with a redemption story.

“(The conviction) is water under the bridge to me,” McGraw said. “I made my fair share of mistakes, I paid the price, and I have moved on with my life. I believe every single person makes mistakes in life, but how you respond to those mistakes and live life afterward is what really matters. As Dr. Tony Evans says ‘everyone is going to get knocked down in life in one way or another, what’s important is how you get back up.’

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“I never look back, that is just my personality. Just like you don’t drive a car looking in the rear-view mirror, I am always looking forward.”

I first heard about McGraw’s history a week ago, when someone sent me photos of Tuberville speaking at an event, McGraw standing by his side. McGraw was labeled a “felon” in a description with the picture, and that piqued my interest.

I read through a few newspaper articles about his arrest in the 1980s on drug distribution charges, and I thought it was possibly one of the craziest things I’ve come across in quite some time.

Basically, the story is this: McGraw, who was a successful businessman in Camden even in the 1980s, conspired with a handful of people to fly about $2 million worth of marijuana from Jamaica to a private air strip in Camden. The weed was going to McGraw’s farm, according to court records, where it would have been distributed and sold.

It never made it.

Drug dealers apparently aren’t great at physics, and $2 million in 1980 bought a lot of marijuana — approximately 1,400 pounds — that needed to be equally distributed around the small plane. Instead, according to media reports, the guys in Jamaica — McGraw wasn’t one of them — failed to secure the load and it all shifted to the tail of the plane. The plane crashed into a marsh on takeoff.

Still, Sessions and the U.S. Attorney’s Office were able to build a case with several informants and by flipping witnesses. And they went hard after McGraw, who maintained that he had a limited role. The federal jury that convicted McGraw of conspiracy to distribute also acquitted him of conspiring to import the weed, so there was obviously some gray area.

Regardless, Sessions went after McGraw’s property, utilizing recent and broad changes to asset seizure laws in the late-1980s that allowed prosecutors to tie virtually any property to drug money and then seize it. The federal government, with little evidence, took McGraw’s motel, the Southern Inn in Camden. It was one of the biggest asset seizures in the country at the time.

McGraw ended up being sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served less than half of that and prison records show he was released in 1992.

When I learned of McGraw’s history, I tweeted a couple of the newspaper clippings and speculated that McGraw had thoroughly enjoyed Tuberville ending Sessions’ political career. Because, I mean, Sessions took the guy’s motel — for marijuana that didn’t even get here.

He has to hate him, right?

Then I emailed McGraw to ask if he’d be willing to talk to me about it. I expected one of two things to occur: Either he would ignore me altogether or he’d accept the interview and express his great personal satisfaction.

He did neither.

Instead, McGraw told me the same story that he’s been telling at the Christmas party for Camden work release inmates. He volunteers with a Christian ministry that works with the prisoners. And each year, McGraw, who now is best known as part owner of the McGraw-Webb Chevrolet dealership in Camden, stands up in front of those inmates and lets them know that there is a pathway to redemption. To a better life. To a happy life.

“What happened coming up on almost 35 years ago, seems like a lifetime ago,” McGraw said. “My faith grew immeasurably during those years and the Lord has blessed me immensely since. I have been happily married for 27 years and I have three wonderful children; 26, 25 and 21 years old. I would want people to know to not let the past mistakes in life mold you. Brokenness can be a breakthrough.

“I feel like I am one of the most blessed people in the world and I give God all the credit. I would hope that I would be thought of as someone who came back home, worked very hard and served his community, church, and family to the absolute best of my God given ability.”

As far as his dealings with Sessions, McGraw said he’s had very little. While he clearly disagrees with Sessions’ decisions in his case — all McGraw would say is that he’d leave that up to Sessions to answer for — he said he’s spoken to the former U.S. AG just once in the past three decades. That meeting came at an Auburn basketball game, where McGraw introduced himself and reminded Sessions of their past. McGraw said the conversation was cordial and lasted only a few minutes.

He swears he holds no ill will towards Session at this point. His support of Tuberville had nothing to do with his history, or even politics really. Records show McGraw has donated to only one campaign in his life — Tuberville’s. And that came about because the two are old friends.

“My relationship with Tommy Tuberville began sometime while he was coaching at Auburn,” McGraw said. “We became friends with the Tubervilles as our sons became close friends while attending Auburn University and our friendship has grown since. Our family made our first contribution to Tuberville in April of 2019. I want to be very clear that my support of Tommy Tuberville was only influenced by our friendship and his political views and had nothing to do with Jeff Sessions.”

And maybe that’s for the best.

2020 has more than its fair share of nasty political stories, revenge stories and just plain ol’ dirtiness. Maybe a good story of redemption is something we could all use at this point. Maybe what we need to hear is the message that McGraw gives to those 100 or so inmates each year at Christmas.

“I strive to give (them) the hope that whatever they have done in the past does not have to limit their future,” McGraw said. “I learned to take nothing for granted and that every single day is a gift from above.”

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Elections

Merrill gives guidance on straight party, write-in voting

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill issued guidance Wednesday on straight party and write-in voting.

“Voters who wish to vote straight party for all of the Democratic or Republican candidates on their ballot may do so by filling in the bubble next to their party preference at the top of their ballot,” Merrill explained in a statement.

“If a voter wishes to vote for any candidate outside of the selected party, however, he or she may do so by filling in the bubble next to the preferred candidate’s name. In doing so, the candidate(s) voted on outside of the voter’s designated party ballot will receive the vote for that particular race.

In addition, if a voter wishes to write-in a candidate, he or she may do so by filling in the bubble next to the box marked ‘Write-in’ and then printing the name of the preferred candidate on the designated line.

Write-in votes must be hand-written and not stamped or otherwise artificially applied to the ballot.”

Sample ballots for the Nov. 3 general election are available online.

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Economy

SNAP replacement benefits coming to three counties hit by Hurricane Sally

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Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Thousands of SNAP recipients in Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia counties are set to receive automatic replacement benefits as a result of Hurricane Sally, the Alabama Department of Human Resources announced Thursday.

Recipients who received their benefits Sept. 1 through Sept. 16 will receive a replacement of 50 percent of their regular monthly benefit. Those who received supplemental pandemic maximum allotment payments will receive a replacement of 30 percent of those benefits.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service approved the replacement benefits today at the request of DHR. The benefits are intended to replace food purchased with SNAP that was lost to widespread power outages caused when Hurricane Sally made landfall on Sept. 16.

“Our priority is to remove the very real threat of hunger for the many Alabamians who are struggling from the devastation of Hurricane Sally,” said Alabama DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner. “The first step toward that goal is to replace the food that so many Alabamians lost to the storm. We are actively working to obtain additional resources to provide much-needed relief for the region as it recovers.”

Hurricane Sally caused over 265,000 households to lose power for at least four hours in Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia counties, where approximately 54,000 households will receive SNAP benefits totaling an estimated $8.5 million.

Those recipients should expect to see the replacement benefits automatically loaded onto their EBT cards next week.

The Food Assistance Division of DHR administers the SNAP program in Alabama.

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More information about the program can be found at dhr.alabama.gov/food-assistance.

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Economy

Unemployment assistance available to workers in Baldwin, Escambia and Mobile Counties

Staff

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Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington announced Thursday that workers who became unemployed as a direct result of Hurricane Sally in Baldwin, Escambia and Mobile Counties may qualify for unemployment assistance.

People who live in or worked in these counties and became unemployed due to Hurricane Sally during the period of Sept. 14, 2020, may be eligible for assistance under the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program, which was triggered when President Donald Trump designated the area as a disaster area on Sept. 20, 2020.

“Generally, those who are eligible for state unemployment benefits are not eligible for DUA, but a claimant may qualify if state unemployment compensation benefits are exhausted,” said Washington. “If you believe you are entitled to these benefits, I urge you to file a claim to see if you are eligible.”

People who may be eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance include the following:

  • Individuals who no longer have a job, are unable to reach the place of employment, or were scheduled to start work in the major disaster area and the job no longer exists
  • Those who became the breadwinner or major support of the family because the head of household died, or those who cannot work because of an injury incurred during the major disaster

All the previously described circumstances must be as a direct result of the hurricane. Self-employed individuals must provide a copy of their 2019 tax return, business license or Form 1099 within 21 days after applying for DUA benefits.

Claims can be filed through ADOL’s website at labor.alabama.gov or by calling 1-866-234-5382.

The deadline to file a DUA claim is Oct. 28, 2020, for Baldwin, Escambia and Mobile Counties.

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